Norwegian artist Louien’s new release, No Tomorrow / Figure Me Out, is a beautiful set of songs that inhabit a verdant landscape between folk and country and combines six new songs under the title Figure Me Out with the six tracks released as No Tomorrow in June 2021. I reviewed the No Tomorrow EP back then (alongside a Q&A) and said “Louien’s voice is a North Star that shines through every song. It can flex from a low, intimate tone that feels like she is only singing to you, or it can fly high joined in a murmuration by the most divine harmonies”.
Despite being separated by just over a year there is no doubt that all twelve songs complement each other. There’s the gentle procession of ‘Deep Within’, the low rumble and soaring chorus of ‘Better Woman’, the stripped back lo-fi of ‘No Tomorrow’, the almost Celtic sound of ‘Fire’, the atmospheric swell of strings on ‘Woke Up From The Dead’ and 4am haze of ‘Crazy’ which features the kinds of harmonies rarely heard outside Crosby, Stills and Nash. No Tomorrow, says Louien, was about the “complete freedom to write whatever I wanted, and explore sides of myself and my life that didn’t fit in with the vision of the first record” whereas the songs that make up Figure Me Out are the product of acceptance and understanding: “I grew up learning that some emotions are good and some bad. Later in life I’ve learned that emotions are emotions, and that they only become dangerous when we label them as such and let them scare us”.
Louien’s ability to “hold melancholy and joy together in a beautiful tension” never fails to impress especially on ‘Second Best’ which allows Louien’s voice to move from the intimacy of the verses where she seems to be singing close to your ear, to the chorus which rises above the clouds. Whether it’s the ache of ‘Figure Me Out’ – “I keep my distance to keep you close and leave our future in the unknown” – the grit and defiance of ‘No’, the warm glow of ‘Bridged By Fire’, where the cello echoes the rising embers, or the pulsing meditation of ‘Desert’, these are songs that hold you in a sublime suspension, like the feeling of being in a floatation tank.
Louien’s voice is truly exceptional and requires little adornment, just sympathetic arrangements. The instrumentation, harmonies, and sound on No Tomorrow / Figure Me Out EP are outstanding thanks to the empathic work of long-time collaborator and producer Øyvind Røsrud Gundersen who, like Filip Leyman with Sumie, understands not to get in the way and make sure each song has exactly what it needs to cradle the vocals or let them fly. From song to song and with each release Louien is slowly establishing herself as one of the truly great artists.
There are still a few copies left of the limited-edition white vinyl LP via Bandcamp should you be so tempted.
Review by Paul F Cook